Catholic Bishop of the Forces travels to Normandy for D-Day Commemorations

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Thursday, 6 June poignantly marked 80 years since D-Day – the largest seaborne invasion in history. It was the start of the campaign to liberate France and western Europe. The cost was high. There were 10,000 Allied casualties that day and in the Battle of Normandy over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing.

On Tuesday, 4 June, Bishop Paul Mason, the Catholic Bishop of the Forces, travelled to the north coast of France to Normandy to stand in solidarity with, and pray for, the veterans of D-Day and World War II.


The 0800 ferry from Portsmouth on 4 June was certainly the one to be on. About 30 D-Day veterans were on board and they were given all the fanfare they deserved. A flotilla of small boats proudly led the ferry out of the harbour while others joined the applause with the sounding of foghorns.

We have a common identity as the lucky generations who had our freedoms protected, paid for by the brave men who stormed the beaches that day.

Bishop Paul Mason, Bishop of the Forces

Aboard the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier the crew stood to attention in No.1 uniform, worn for ceremonial duties, and saluted as we sailed past. An A400 transport aircraft circled the ferry three times, and all the while the band on board played wartime favourites including We’ll Meet Again and the White Cliffs of Dover. Onlookers on shore waved Union Jacks and cheered. We all knew this was something special.

Once in Normandy, I had the opportunity to speak to a number of people and hear what brought them over the Channel. In fact they were all too ready to tell me about their connection to D-Day, as though doing so reinforced a solidarity with strangers – strangers united in a common history and shared freedom.

Stories of loss and heroism

One elderly gentleman had come with his wife from Arizona to honour his uncle who had died on Omaha Beach. A woman I spoke to lost her father during the landings and she was the only surviving member of the family. Such stories, recounted in a setting of WWII military vehicles, uniforms and music, was wonderful theatre enabling all present to, in some way, touch the past.

Connection with the past is fundamental to such an occasion, taking hold of our history, owning it, for fear it may disappear into the mists of the collective memory. We have a common identity as the lucky generations who had our freedoms protected, paid for by the brave men who stormed the beaches that day. There were prayers for the dead and for their eternal rest. Even the ferry stopped as it approached Ouisterham so a wreath could be laid on the waters when so many perished.

Solidarity and prayer

Many have commented that this will no doubt be the last time we are able to honour the fallen of the D-Day landings while veterans are still with us. From what I saw, I believe we did our best to show our gratitude and love. No-one was a spectator on Thursday but standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity and prayer with our veterans, both living and dead.

May Almighty God bless them all.